I was a bit apprehensive about opening the large manila envelope that arrived in the mail the other day. You never know what sort of things people might send. When you have written your opinions in the newspaper several times a week for the past 10 or 15 years you wind up with a few poison pen pals.
You never know when someone might be taking exception to something you have written, and I have received all sorts of admonitions in the mail. One guy sent me a mayonnaise sandwich. And then there is the government to worry about — local, state and federal.
But this parcel was addressed in a neat pen with a return address in the upper left-hand corner. It carried no sign of having been dispatched by an attorney or official entity, so I took a chance and opened it. What a treasure a friend had shared with me!
I was holding in my hand a double-page spread of a special edition of the Bibb Recorder. (The Bibb Recorder was a weekly newspaper that reported on the goings-on in the various mill villages — Porterdale, Macon, Columbus, Forsyth, etc. — that made up the vast Bibb Manufacturing Empire back in the 1950s and ’60s.) This particular edition of the paper was an advertising supplement in which the merchants of Newton County had chosen to honor the Bibb workers of the “Porterdale Division” by publishing everybody’s picture in the paper.
As I held the paper in my hand, there — staring back at me — were all the adults of my early youth, or at least the ones whose names went from H to R.
Naturally I looked at the H’s first. Lined up, side by side, were likenesses of my parents, two uncles, and an aunt. My daddy looked distinguished with his closely cropped mustache and white hair. As far as I know he was born with white hair. His hair was like the driven snow in every picture I have ever seen of him.
I couldn’t get over how young my mother looked. She had a big friendly smile on her face, as if she were the most content person on Earth. I suppose that in 1961, which is about when the picture was made, she probably was. She had a husband she adored, two small children that she loved unconditionally — and who loved her back — a four-room house to live in and a good stand of looms on the first shift. What more could a 37-year-old child of the Depression Era South have possibly wanted?
My Uncle Roy was beside my mother, and my Uncle Bob was beside him. Bob died so very young and was buried on one of the coldest days in the history of the weather bureau. He carried on a lifetime battle with the bottle, and the bottle won. Roy suffered a stroke and was unable to speak intelligibly for the last years of his life. But he would come over and watch the college football games with Daddy and me and show his pleasure — or displeasure — with the action on the screen by slapping his hand against his leg.
I would gladly trade my next year’s season tickets in Sanford Stadium for one more Saturday afternoon watching television with my daddy and Uncle Roy. His wife, Aunt Evelyn, was in the paper, too, as was my mama’s sister, Evelyn Parham. So many precious memories of the people in those pictures.
Then I began to scan the page and look for other folks I recognized. There was Frank Hogan’s friendly face. Frank Hogan used to take me fishing — and we even went camping one fine weekend, down at Lake Sinclair. I remember that my father was concerned about having a cup of hot coffee when he woke up at the lake, and Mr. Frank told him, “Mr. Homer, my coffee pot has been everywhere. My coffee pot has been to the Grand Ole Opry.” That was good enough for Daddy.
Mary Piper was in the paper. Her son, Steve, was the closest thing to a big brother that I ever had. She and her husband, N.J., died a few months apart while I was still in high school. Watching Steve negotiate college and early adulthood without benefit of parental guidance helped me realize how lucky I was to have my parents for as long as I did.
Interestingly enough, the Porterdale school teachers were in the paper as well, right along with the mill hands. I suppose they were Bibb employees, too. I was so thankful the J’s were included because I got to look into the kind eyes of Miss Ruby Jordan, my first-grade teacher, one more time. Miss Lucy Robinson was in there, too. I never had her, but she was my sister’s third-grade teacher and used to encourage her to bring me to school, before I was old enough to be there.
So many faces of so many wonderful people that I took so much for granted all those years. You can call them mill hands, you can call them lintheads, you can call them anything you would like. I call them the salt of the earth, and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to spend an hour or so getting reacquainted with them all this week — at least the ones from H and R.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.